Hindu: Feminism shines during nine nights of Navaratri

Photo courtesy of FotopediaTUESDAY, OCTOBER 16: This is an exceptional festival among world religions as Hindus highlight femininity for the next nine days: it’s Sharad Nav(a)ratri, an ancient Hindu festival that emphasizes the motherhood of God (English spellings vary). The key term literally refers to nine nights (“nava” and “ratri”). Hindus worship the forms or characteristics of the Mother Goddess Durga, who is manifested in cosmic energy and power (Shakti). This festival brings to light the various forms of Shakti/Devi. In general, Sharad Navratri is the celebration of good over evil, but many aspects of this tradition vary by region in India and around the world.

Navratri in its basic form takes place five times per year, but it’s Sharad Navratri—this festival at the beginning of autumn—that takes precedence over any other. (Wikipedia has details.) Determined by the lunar calendar, Sharad Navratri lasts nine days and culminates on a final day, which is known as Dussehra.

Legends related to this observance also differ: Some indicate that Shiva gave permission to Durga to visit her mother for nine days, while others describe Durga’s victory following a nine-day battle with the demon Mahishasura. Life-size clay idols depicting this battle are commonly seen in temples during Navratri. But there is a universal theme to this tradition: All Hindus aim for purity during Navratri, avoiding meat, grains and alcohol—and usually installing a household pot that is kept lit for nine days. Some devotees fast, and others consume only milk and fruit for nine days. (Check out a BBC video of this festival on the site’s Navratri page.)


In India, Navratri brings out orchestras and fosters singing; nighttime dances in the streets combine with bountiful feasts; and shrines are elaborately decorated. In Saraswat Brahmin temples, idols are adorned with flowers, sandalwood paste and turmeric. In some regions of India, it’s believed that one should try to envision the divinity in the tools used for daily life, whether they are books and computers or ploughs and cars. By decorating these “tools” with flowers and other adornments, devotees hope to both humble themselves and bring auspiciousness upon the items that aid them in livelihood.


This year, fashion designers point to prints as the fabric of choice during Navratri; more specifically, the ultra-chic are seeking out printed gharghras and short, elegant blouses. (Read more in the Times of India.) In Amdavadi, young people are utilizing backless shirts to show off new tattoos, as tattoo studios report a 200 percent increase in customers in the last 90 days. (The Times of India reported.) Designers attest that tattoos are now depicting stories and legends that sometimes require complex dotting. Other artists—dollmakers—report that orders have been coming in for Navratri figurines since June. (The Hindu has an article and photos.) Skilled artists closely observe rituals in order to more accurately depict the dolls’ enactments.

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